Friday, July 6, 2007

Ma belle amie est morte

I am getting sick of paying tribute to the greats. I love singing their praises, but it breaks my heart observing their passing. What a week of loss for lovers of great singing. First Bubbles and now Régine Crespin. As I wrote to a friend earlier, in the course of a few days we lose the quintessential American soprano and now the quintessential French soprano.

This is a singer I loved like few others. She had enormous reserves of power but her singing always had delicacy and a certain Gallic élan that few non-native French speakers ever muster (of course I except Maggie Teyte and Mary Garden). I was privileged to be able to see her when I was young as Madame de Croissy in Dialogues of the Carmelites (and yes, it was in English) on the Minneapolis stop of the Met tour. Her performance was riveting, perhaps surpassed in my experience only by Teresa Stratas as Suor Angelica (what is it with these divas and nuns?) One really felt that she was going through the death agonies. I only hope that, unlike her Croissy's, her passing yesterday was peaceful.

In my Sills entry, I forgot to mention that in my mind, she will always be as she was in the mid-seventies. The other, more hard-boiled Sills was perhaps a natural outgrowth of that other persona, but she should be remembered as a singer, not an administrator, as she herself said. But Crespin always gave the sense of being beyond age. Her Carmen and Charlotte toward the end of her career were as magnificent as her Kundry and Marschallin toward the beginning. And she always presented herself with such a sense of glamour and "womanliness", the term used perhaps most frequently to describe her and her singing.

There are so many recordings of hers I'd love to put on here. But how could I possibly choose: her faultless recording of Fauré's "Soir" from her 1966 EMI song recital? But what about that transcendent "Sombre foret" or "D'amor sull'ali rosee" from her 1958 EMI aria recording? Much less well-known but riveting are the excerpts from Hérodiade from 1963, one of a series of excerpts from French operas done by Pathé in the sixties. Even her effervescent Offenbach and Satie recordings from later in her career are to be treasured.

Given these and so many others that are more readily available (her definitive Nuits d'été and Shéhérazade, her exquisite Poulenc recordings (the Stabat Mater, which displays her exquisite pianissimi, the Dialogues des Carmélites, the ultra-beautiful profoundly moving recording of "C") I have chosen two of her more rare recordings. They are both from a 1967 Hunter College recital with my dear John Wustman at the piano.

I have friends who were actually at this recital and they said that it was as unbelievable live as it is on recording. This is how I will always remember her, expressive, exquisite, powerful, and sublime.

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